It’s got to be tough to be a brand like Audi. First of all, you’ve got Mercedes and BMW always gunning for you. And then, brands like Lexus. And the excellent Acura TLX we tested – another upstart. And then, you have to worry about your sibling…in this case the recently refreshed 2021 VW Arteon. Does VW’s handsome luxury flagship have what it takes to lure buyers out of those fancy, shiny dealerships? Let’s see.
You don’t see a lot of Arteons – frankly the brand is busy selling lots of SUV’s and churning up interest in their new EV models – but when you do, you realize this is one of the most handsome vehicles ever to wear that VW badge.
And even thought it was only introduced in 2019, you have to appreciate that VW has stepped up the Arteon’s game. The grille is new, and the upper portions flow into the powerful hood line for a wide stance. On SEL models like our tester, an illuminated light bar in the grille serves to visually connect the LED headlights, and surround the newly-designed and simpler VW logo. It’s an upscale and impressive first impression.
The profile shows off what looks off to be a huge car – in fact it’s a bit shorter than the mammoth Acura TLX we recently tested – with a new intake ahead of the front wheels, a sharp character crease, and tasteful uses of chrome. It’s even a hatchback – surprise! – that is tastefully hidden in the nicely laid-back rear window. The biggest draw on the aggressive profile are the massive 20-inch alloy wheels in a fresh throwing-star pattern.
The rear has the same epic quality to it, with a large VW badge with ARTEON spelled out in tasteful chrome letters underneath. Being an R-Line, our tester enjoyed some blacked-out trim and a tasteful black rear spoiler. The finishing touch on our tester was the King’s Red Metallic paint – a gorgeous deep color that makes a statement, especially in the world of black, white, gray and silver that seems to be staple of luxury sedans today. Not here. This VW wants to be noticed!
Inside, the Arteon gets a significant upgrade as well. The entire dash panel is redesigned for a sleek look that accentuates the width of the cabin. Being an SEL Premium R-Line, we got the whole enchilada with heated and ventilated Nappa front leather seats with a massage function for the driver. Those in back enjoy heated rear seats and copious amounts of legroom.
Massage or no, the driver’s seat is the one we want. With R-Line you get contrasting stitching on the steering wheel and shifter, along with paddle shifters, a black headliner, and stainless steel on the pedals and door sills. The R-Line also surrounds you in your choice of 30 colors of ambient LED interior lighting. Fancy!
Getting down to business is VW’s handsome Digital Cockpit. Standard on all Arteon, the 10-inch TFT display was one of the first and is still one of the best, with 21 viewing options, including navigation, driver assistance and more. And it’s all presented in Audi-quality legibility and tastefulness.
Continuing the digital experience is the VW’s latest infotainment system with a touch-sensitive climate control system. While the touch sensitive is elegant, we found it overly sensitive, often accidentally activating things like the ventilated seat when reaching for something else. The steering wheel also now features digital touch surfaces, but we found them easier to use than the climate control, requiring a more deliberate push that suited us fine.
Also suiting us fine was the enveloping harman/kardon audio system, featuring 700 watts, a 16-channel amplifier and 12 speakers, including a center speaker in the dash and a subwoofer in the trunk. And despite the handsome 8-inch display, VW still gives you a volume and tuning knob. Awesome!
You’ll also find all the tech you can want, including wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless charging. The center console has two USB-C ports, so you may need to get an adapter. There’s loads of fun tech to play with as well, including Car Net Hot Spot and parking help via Parkopedia.
You can even enroll in the DriveViewTM program, which helps drivers monitor their activities like night driving, hard braking, idle time, and excess speed. That contributes to an overall driving score, which can help you get a discounted rate from some of the top automotive insurance companies in the country. (Probably best not to drive like an auto journalist..)
With Audi like looks and ambience, we were really hoping that they’d throw in an equally premium drive. We were happy to find a 2.0-liter, turbo four under the hood, making a strong 268 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque. This is a big sedan, but that lion-hearted four pushes hard, and sounds good running up the rev range.
While VW’s in the past have wowed us with DSG gearboxes, the Arteon employs an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic. Trust us, you won’t miss the DSG – this auto fires off rapid shifts in Sport Mode that will keep you grinning.
We were also grinning to see a real automatic transmission lever in the center console, after our frustration with the pushbutton affair in the Acura TLX. We also found the paddle shifters in the VW to be tactile and responsive.
The steering is typically VW – slick and light – with loads of accuracy that lets you just fingertip it wherever you want to go. Our tester featured the optional 4Motion All-wheel-drive system, so you are able to put the power down confidently. It’s an easy vehicle to drive quickly, but like an Audi A4, it is more of a gentleperson’s express than an out and out sport sedan.
Even when you dial up the sportiest settings on the DCC adaptive damper system, the Arteon stays smooth and composed. If not making it a Bahn-burner, it certainly makes a smooth and lovely companion for any kind of drive. You feel a balance in all things – the kind you pay extensively for in the other European brands.
You also get the European attention to safety, and our loaded Arteon enjoyed Forward Collison warning/Autonomous braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping System and more.
Well, yes and no. The Arteon starts with the SE model, and includes lots of niceties, including the VW digital cockpit, those lovely looks and European road manners for a quite reasonable $36,995. Heck, you could spend more on a Camry! Our tester was the opposite end of the price spectrum, being a top of the line SEL Premium R-Line, including 4Motion AWD. With pretty much everything standard at $46,995, our only option was the lush King’s Red paint ($395) and Destination ($1,195). We rang the bell at $48,585.
That puts it right in the fray with the new Acura TLX we tested at $47,775, and significantly less than the Lexus IS350 at $55,050. The closest competition is probably the sibling Audi A4, but at over $52,000, you have to decide how much that fancier four-ring badge (and ultra-modern dealerships) are worth to you.
We loved our time with our sexy sedan. Supermodel good looks, stunning interior, and sophisticated drive. Look out Audi, the VW Arteon is stealing your thunder!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.